‘Jackie’ – and finding the truth

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It’s my favourite time of year for going to the cinema.  We all need cheering up in January and – in the UK, at least – we have the award-contenders on release.

In the last week, I’ve seen La La Land, which is cheerful without being saccharine and has songs with tunes that stick in the head in a good way.  The people I saw it with were in tears at the end, but that seemed to add to their enjoyment.

I’ve also seen Jackie, which is far more intense.  The performances are superb and I particularly loved the score; it feels more like a score than mere music.  But there’s a but on the way.

Most of the people seeing it won’t remember the assassination of President Kennedy and the events that followed his death, although I expect more or less everyone will have heard of him and his widow.  There is, though, a need to introduce the characters and their lives.

On the whole, I thought that was well done, but there were a few occasions where it felt as though the script ground to a halt while we were given a fact.  For instance:  Mrs Kennedy saying that she could have been hunting in Virginia, when there seemed no reason to mention that; some of the references to the son and daughter who died.

The film purports to look at the days after President Kennedy’s death and how the label Camelot became attached to the Kennedy White House.  As I watched, I was trying to distinguish fact from artistic licence and I wasn’t at all clear whether scenes that gave the film its depth and allowed the character of Jackie Kennedy to be portrayed were, in fact, accurate.  Did she walk around the White House at night, after her husband’s death, wearing various dresses from her days as First Lady?  Did she throw her children’s toys in boxes when packing to leave the White House?  Did she use the words in the film when she told her children that their father was dead?  Did John Kennedy Jr cry and have an understandable tantrum where that appears in the film?

They’re small points, but I believe that these things matter if you’re purporting to tell a story about real people and real events – even if those real events were about the creation of Camelot, conjuring an image that we’ve come to accept as defining the Kennedy era.  Particularly at a time when post-truth and fake news have become part of our lives.

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